B- for Golding’s ‘A-Team’
It has been said that timing is the art of politics. Was Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s decision to reshuffle his shadow Cabinet a few weeks before the local government elections a wise and well-thought out move? Or was it a knee-jerk response to the growing criticisms that his previous spokespersons were, for the most part, missing in action or just not cutting it?
There is talk that his decision may have caused some discontent and even consternation in the People’s National Party (PNP) camp and that any semblance of disunity or disaffection at this critical time could upset the applecart and thus increase the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) chances of romping home in the winners’ circle.
Clearly, a confident Golding does not think so, to the extent that he has told journalists at a recent social event that he had been getting positive feedback on his choices, which reflect the wide range of talent, youth, and experience that the party has at its behest. Be that as it may, shadow Cabinets, like highly touted manifestos, tend to be mere cosmetic dressings in the scheme of things, although, to some extent, they may well give John Public an insight into what will be the major priorities of an elected Administration.
However, one difficulty I have with his current crop of spokespersons is the wide range of portfolios they cover, which would suggest that Golding could have a penchant for big government, something that he previously abhorred. One was of the view that he and his party embraced the approach of a lean and mean government as against a top-heavy bureaucracy that is likely to be weak on deliverables. Is it that he had to go out of his way to appease as many of his Cabinet aspirants as possible so as to get them fully in his corner and on the move?
The Jamaican Parliament has 63 seats in the Lower House of Representatives and 21 senators in the Upper House (Senate). Clearly, if one were to go by his current selections, then a 26-member Cabinet plus ministers of state and perhaps a few parliamentary secretaries would intimate that here again is a classic case of “providing jobs for the boys [and girls]”.
This, of course, brings into sharp focus the question: What is a shadow Cabinet and what are its roles and functions? Originally, and based on the British Westminster system that we inherited and continue to ape, The Oxford English Dictionary defined it as a group of members of the principal political party in Opposition who are chosen as counterparts of members of the Government who hold Cabinet positions.
Clearly, if one were to stick to this definition, then what Golding has announced would be more of a list of spokespersons and not in real terms a shadow Cabinet. In this vein, this writer strongly suggests that this country should abandon that outdated anachronism, even as we say goodbye to the British monarchy.
Against this backdrop, it is high time that both the JLP and the PNP, as part of the constitutional reform process, come to a consensus with regard to the establishment of a set number of specific core ministries which should be enshrined and not tinkered with every time there is a change of Government or a prime minister wants to wield his power willy-nilly.
The billions of dollars that have been expended and wasted in order to reconfigure ministries as well as find spaces and resources for a wide array of bureaucrats and technocrats, most of whom are political appointees and many of whom are soon overwhelmed by the Peter Principle as well as absorbed into what is usually a very corrupt and manipulated governance system, is mind-boggling. Jamaica is a small developing island State and can ill-afford such excesses in government. Time come for a transformational leap forward, Golding and Prime Minister Andrew Holness!
So then, what of Golding’s cadre of spokespersons; indeed, his highly touted A-Team? In terms of timing, methinks the party should have sought to unveil its manifesto (instead of any last minute foray which does not give the electorate enough opportunity to fully examine and appreciate its policies and objectives) then present a slate of spokespersons who would be responsible for articulating the party’s positions on the various subject matters outlined therein.
But, alas, the horse has bolted through the gate, so one is left to assess this current crop of “would-be shadowers”. Given his deck of cards, Golding did reasonably well and deserves a B- for effort. At a glance there are some good choices in the mix, and this writer wishes to single out newcomers Dr Alfred Dawes, health and wellness; Richard Azan, roads and works; Nekeisha Burchell, information and public communication; Dr Deborah Hickling, culture & creative industries; and Senator Gabriela Morris, youth & civic engagement.
In the meantime, the Opposition leader must, post-haste, seek to define in real terms, along with the respective spokespersons, what is really meant by citizen security and productivity (Peter Bunting); social transformation & social protection (Patricia Sutherland), these two portfolios seem to have a great deal of overlapping; and foreign & regional affairs (Dr Angela Brown-Burke).
For Jamaica’s sake, let us wish Golding and his team well, but they must bear in mind that should the JLP wallop them in the local government election, then the big one will be more sooner rather than later.
Already one perceives a sense of urgency among the spokespersons as in the wake of their naming there has been a spate of press releases bombarding the media landscape. All well and good, but they should be reminded that most Jamaicans do not read and are for the most part bereft of critical thinking skills so they must devise other innovative ways and means to get across the party’s messages, aspirations, and objectives as well as policies in a palatable and digestible format.
Jamaicans are yearning for good governance and for political representatives who they can trust and believe. No more pie in the sky rhetoric and promises that are only comfort for fools.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 48 years. He has served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.